Can’t-Miss Kids’ Birthday Gifts

by Abby on October 3, 2011

Birthday presentIt’s that time of year again! The kids are back in school and those telltale brightly colored envelopes are showing up in your mailbox or kids’ backpacks weekly – birthday party invitations. If you’re thinking, “Yay! How fun!” you obviously haven’t been to as many kids’ birthday parties as I have.

Listen: I’m flattered my kids are invited. They are always thrilled to attend, no matter how many times they’ve been to the same bounce-and-play place. And I like small-talk and garishly colored sheet cake as much as the next mom. The part that stresses me out is the gift.

Buying a present for a kid you know nothing about is like being invited to your in-laws’ for the first time. What if you bring a bottle of wine and your MIL is a recovering alcoholic? What if you bring red and she only drinks white? What if you bring flowers and she’s allergic? What if you bring hand-milled French guest soaps in the shape of seashells and she’s strictly a liquid-soap person and hates the beach? It’s a MINEFIELD, people!! (If you’re thinking, “Just ask your husband” you obviously haven’t met mine. He’s about as helpful as my 5yo is when I ask him what to buy his classmates for their birthdays. Sometimes he can’t even tell me if the kid is a boy or a girl.)

Did you see “Date Night”? Remember that scene where Steve Carell’s character offers to buy a kid’s birthday present to help out his wife? And Tina Fey says, “No batteries. And it can’t be made in China. And it’s got to be educational.” Welcome to my world.

I’ve decided that there are a few foolproof birthday party gifts. Are you ready?

Art supplies. In our house, Play-Doh and markers are, sadly, pretty much disposable. Someone mushes it all together into a brownish blob or leaves the cap off and that’s the end of that. Crayons break, coloring books get used up. You can never have enough art supplies, if you ask me. But please, for the love of God, no Moon Sand or fingerpaints. Think mess-free: Bendaroos, Color Wonder, beads, origami kits, that sort of thing. At least if you want to be invited back again next year.

Bath toys. My husband got the boys shaving kits one time, complete with colored shaving cream, and they absolutely loved them. As for plastic squirty toys, they have to be replaced regularly since they start to grow that black stuff on the inside that shoots out when you squirt them and looks disgusting. Bath crayons, bubble bath, rubber duckies, a cute hooded towel – if it’s new, cute, and useful to boot, both kids and parents will love it.

Personalized stuff. Every kid loves stuff with their name on it. I like the placemats from Olive Kids. But that takes advance planning. Another idea is to find a book with the child’s name in it. This works best if they have a common name. For instance, I plugged “Emily” and “Jack” into Amazon under children’s books and instantly came up with dozens of options for each. When in doubt, get them a book about underpants. You can’t go wrong.

So that’s all I’ve got in my bag of tricks. Anybody else have any ideas for can’t-miss birthday gifts? And while you’re at it, my 8th anniversary is coming up and I’ve got nothing. Help!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali October 3, 2011 at 8:41 am

This was so helpful – thanks!


Malia Jacobson October 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Yay for personalization (my daughter Bianca can never find things with her own name on them); we’ve received beautiful personalized puzzles, handbags, aprons, and other things that my girls love. And down with Moon Sand! Blech! 🙂 I love it when my kids get art supplies, sticker books, or any of that type of “disposable” stuff. We can never have enough of it, and I can always pack it away for later.


Kim October 3, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Great recommendations! Thank you 🙂 I love the personalized gifts idea and didn’t know of Olive Kids before now. Play-Doh is a safe bet, but I love the idea of new bath tub toys since the squirters have to be replaced so frequently.


Angie October 4, 2011 at 7:46 am

You’re right. You can’t miss with art supplies. And the Target art section has an herb garden… in a box. 🙂 Always good for a girl in kindergarten and up.

Love the place mat idea.

Also, check out — a great place for personalized children’s books.


Jennifer October 4, 2011 at 5:47 pm

I adore art supplies. Actually, I love them more than my kids do. I love school supplies and office supplies, too. And my older son’s all like, “Meh.” Sob. How does he have half my DNA?

I’ve bought tubs of Legos or Duplos because hey, they’re not made in China and don’t require batteries and are educational. Okay, actually I buy them because they can be given to a boy or a girl, and if you watch the sales, you get a small or medium-sized bin at a pretty good price.


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